Author’s Notes – Lost Treasures

What kid hasn’t dreamed of finding treasure? I certainly did (and still do!). I doubt that I am alone in my experiences. Stories of lost and found treasure have universal appeal. They touch the kid in each of us. I’m hoping they’ll stir the fires of imagination in readers, too.

I never did find elusive treasure, at least not in the usual sense, but I learned that ‘treasure’ has many meanings and for a non-fiction writer like myself, facts and stories are gold and truth is the prize at the end of the hunt. I’ve been so enamored with the subject of treasure that I’ve written two very different books on the topic. Mysteries of Time was my first foray into the subject.  Lost Treasures: 25True Stories of Discovery is the most recent.

Two types of treasure hunters…

I’ve learned that there are basically two types of treasure hunters. Some – archaeologists, palaeontologists, historians and the like – hunt in a professional way. Others – dreamers, schemers and the just plain lucky – sometimes use more unorthodox methods. In the world of treasure-seeking, the two groups often clash. Their motives and approaches are different, and for teachers delving into this theme this may be something to explore with students.

You’ll find both kinds of treasure hunters represented in the two books I’ve written on the subject. Mysteries of Time  is about archaeologists and their work. Readers learn about mysteries of the past, and find out how these detectives of time search for evidence, study and analyze clues, and unravel the events of history. In addition to stories, the book contains 19 ‘Detective Challenges’. These are activities and investigations students can do to hone their own treasure-finding skills.

Lost Treasures: True Stories of Discovery takes a broader view of treasure and treasure hunting. Treasure here is defined simply as something rare, valuable or prized, and the treasure hunters in this book are on the prowl for everything from sunken Spanish galleons, pirate chests, and lost tombs to unusual stamps and missing works of art. Besides the main stories that form the bulk of the book, there are dozens of shorter clips about treasures lost, found and still missing.

Going overboard

Many of these stories were new to me, and finding them is a little like the experience of treasure hunting itself.  In fact, I became so engrossed in the subject that I overwrote the first draft of the book by some 20,000 words.  My editor at Scholastic skillfully steered on to the proper course.  We cut stories, reconfigured chapters, condensed sections, aiming at a target closer to 40,000 words.  I believe the book is stronger as a result. With the fluff gone, we were left with a solid core of the most interesting and vibrant material.

Striking it rich…
Intrepid divers Haig and Bill

Research often steers me down hidden paths.  Such was the case when I worked on Lost Treasure Off Dead Man’s Island. The story of a crew discovering a long lost Spanish galleon off the coast of Ecuador had been breaking news.  I plunged into online newspaper accounts to gather the story’s essentials, but the details were sketchy at best and often contradictory.  Fortunately, I was able to track down Haig and Bill, two divers who were still combing the site.  They willingly talked about the gold treasure they’d uncovered. More importantly, they corrected misleading facts reported in the news.  Even more importantly, they shared the evidence they’d gathered at the site – evidence that told of a thrilling story hundreds of years old involving a vicious pirate and a Spanish ship called the Santa Maria de la Consolacion. For a writer like me, it was as if a gold bar had dropped into my lap.

When the book was complete, I sent each diver a complimentary copy. In return, Bill sent me a few items dredged from the bottom of the ocean.  And that’s how I came to own a couple of nails from the Santa Maria de la Consolacion, a 20 centimeter brass rod that once secured the ship’s hull, and two silver coins, free of encrustations, freshly cleaned and polished, and one stamped with the date 1672.

Bill's treasure - now mine!
Bill’s treasure – now mine!

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